Mark Weiss is not a politician, and he is proud of it.
He is a business owner who thinks the interests of business owners are overrepresented in local government, and he is a concert promoter who has opted to eschew campaign committees and promote his own campaign.
He hasn't yet figured out what his position is on high-speed rail nor does he have any particular ideas for closing the city's structural budget deficit of $10 million-plus.
Weiss, a 44-year-old concert promoter and artist representative, says he is running on an "arts platform," a position that may surprise residents who don't know such a platform exists.
Weiss, who graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in English, said he has a "keen insight" into how Palo Alto uses arts in its civic life. The city could do better, he says.
He told the Weekly he is running largely to make sure arts funding doesn't get slashed -- and to keep the city's annual summertime Brownbag Concert series in downtown Palo Alto funded.
On other matters, he is more philosophical. When asked in July what he thinks of the proposed business-license tax, known as the BLT, he responded, "I prefer it as a sandwich rather than a load I'm being asked to swallow." When asked last week how he would vote on the tax, he said he's "probably" leaning against it.
"I don't think it's very good policy to try to raise revenues on the backs of small business," he said, suggesting a tax on corporations with a million dollars or more in revenue would be a better way to raise the $3 million needed.
Weiss said he is "open minded" about the high-speed rail project, which many fear could split the Palo Alto neighboring cities down the middle and create a wall along the Caltrain tracks. He acknowledges that he doesn't know too much about the issue yet.
He also said he personally knows Quentin Kopp, a fellow Dartmouth alumnus who sits on the Board of Directors of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. But his position on the project may displease residents along the Caltrain corridor, who fear they could lose parts of their properties to make way for the project.
"If it's good for 30 million Californians and not so good for 60,000 Palo Altans, that's just fate," Weiss told the Weekly. "I'm open-minded about it."
In responding to other questions, Weiss made it clear that he isn't bashful about taking stances far from those of the other candidates, particularly when business interests are at stake.
When asked at the Chamber of Commerce forum about how the city could help small businesses, Weiss said business and real-estate interests are already "overrepresented" in city governance.
When asked what he thought of the proposed expansion of Stanford Hospital, he wondered aloud ("as a non-alumni," he said) whether Stanford is too big and influential for Palo Alto's good.
Weiss also took issue with some questions on the Chamber's recent candidates' survey, particularly one that asked how he would feel about reducing the number of seats on the nine-member council. He replied: Why not increase it back to 15?
Weiss presents himself as the grassroots candidate, one who prefers citizen-led petitions over developers' proposals. He said he had his grassroots awakening in 1993, when he was working for an advertising agency in San Francisco and writing ads for an oil company.
He left his North Beach home and moved to Palo Alto. He said his first grassroots event was the 1993 Earth Day, where he met current Mayor Peter Drekmeier.
Weiss said he then began producing concerts at Cubberley Community Center and formed his company, Earthwise Productions, which now primarily represents artists. In August, he helped Human Relations Commissioner Claude Ezran organize Palo Alto's first World Music Day, which brought musicians to downtown Palo Alto for an afternoon of street-corner music.
Weiss said he was inspired to run for office after reading a column by current Councilman Sid Espinosa in the Palo Alto Weekly, in which Espinosa encouraged the public to get engaged in city governance. Weiss said he would stick with his grassroots theme by eschewing campaign committees and financial contributions.
"I'm going 'old school,'" Weiss told the Weekly. "I think money has undermined our democracy."